HL Deb 21 March 1978 vol 389 cc1725-85

4.46 p.m.


My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time. When the Church of England introduced its Worship and Doctrine Measure in 1974, it was to be much congratulated on its sense of timing. Success in politics, as in business, depends on timing. The 1974 Measure was introduced to coincide with the Archbishop of Canterbury's 70th birthday and retirement. Such is the way our public life is conducted that noble Lords were so much engaged on congratulating the Archbishop on these happy events that they were not so critical as they might otherwise have been of the Measure itself. The noble Lord, Lord Clitheroe, went so far as to say he was sorry; and the Measure went through this House without a Division. Then it went to the other place where there are no Bishops to promote it. Because I think it is not the custom of this House to dwell at great length on what happens in another place, I will merely observe how widely it is thought that the success of the Church of England in the Division Lobby there was partly due to the Tribune Group of the Labour Party who did not attend the debate.

All this was four years ago and so I think that the time has come now for a review of whether the safeguards for the Book of Common Prayer laid down in the 1974 Measure are adequate, or whether, on the contrary, if they are not adequate, they need to be reinforced or even replaced by other safeguards. I think that the time has also come to review whether the safeguards for the Book of Common Prayer are adequate or otherwise in the light of the desirability or otherwise of the new services, the alternative services, themselves.

During the debate in both Chambers of Parliament in 1974 speeches were concerned largely with the constitutional question of whether the Church of England should be able to govern its own worship and doctrine, and not so much with the new services themselves. On my own modest understanding from this point of view the debates both Chambers in 1974 seemed to be a trifle deficient. As I have no doubt that I shall be reminded later on in this debate, the Worship and Doctrine Measure of 1974 provides that decisions over whether any services to be used are those of the Book of Common Prayer or the alternative services are to be made jointly by the incumbent and the parochial church council. Where the two parties disagree, then either the Book of Common Prayer will be used or the form of service which has been in regular use for two out of the four years preceding the disagreement, the parochial church council having resolved that such services shall be used either in addition to or to the exclusion of the Book of Common Prayer. These safeguards, adequate though they may appear on the surface, beg the question of whether the parochial church council is the proper instrument through which to decide whether we want the Book of Common Prayer or the alternative services. The reason for this Bill is that it is not.

By the Act of 1921, which brought them into being, parochial church councils are required to co-operate with the incumbent. This must disable them to some extent from opposing the incumbent over forms of worship which he may wish to introduce. Members of the parochial church council therefore who disagree with the incumbent on matters of liturgy are inclined to "vote" by resigning from the parochial church council and ceasing to come to church. I am hoping that later on in this debate noble Lords may be mentioning particular instances in their own parishes where very much this kind of thing has happened. Alternatively, where the incumbent is simply told by the bishop or the archdeacon that Series 3 must be used, and the parochial church council is not consulted, the church gets rather more empty than it used to be.

Meanwhile, I will cite the testimonies of three bishops. One bishop has written to me that something certainly needs to be done to prevent alternative services from being pressed on unwilling congregations. Another bishop has written to me with regard to the introduction of the new services that there are instances in which the parochial church councils have not been properly consulted. Such is the inadequacy of the machinery in the 1974 Measure in that regard, this bishop has felt obliged to send out a pastoral letter requiring to know from all the parishes in his diocese the date and minute when the decision was taken whether to use the old or new forms of service and what result ensued. This bishop has no objection to the use of the alternative services but he requires to know that the decision to use them has been reached in a democratic fashion.

A third bishop has written to me that lay people are sometimes pusillanimous and allow their incumbents to get away with all sorts of things which they ought not to do. This seems a round-about way of saying that lay people allow themselves to be trodden down by their vicars. Now I have outlined the evil, the question is what to do about it. During the debate on the 1974 Measure in your Lordships' House the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury said that the desire for the self-government of the Church had long been vitiated by the failure of the laity to be represented in a traditionally episcopal church. But now all this is changed because the laity is represented in the Church's government through the Church's synodical constitution. The Church of England therefore is fully entitled to its self-government much as the Church of Scotland says with regard to spiritual matters that it must have the Crown rights of the Redeemer.

So I anticipate that a right reverend Prelate, a bishop, will inform your Lordships that legislation on Church matters should always come from the Synod to Parliament. If, on the other hand—as I here envisaged in this Bill—legislation on Church matters should come the other way round, from Parliament to the Synod, for the first time in 60 years since the enabling Act was passed in 1919, then the Church must seek its disestablishment. The idea that under provocation no more significant than this Bill the Church should seek its disestablishment must be taken with a pinch of salt.

Disestablishment would be a step of the magnitude of the reform of your Lordships' House itself, and the Government would have to find time for such a thing, as a result of which no bishops would be able to sit in your Lordships' House and the Church of England would not be able to attend the Coronation. But in case the threat of disestablishment is taken at all seriously—I know it has been contemplated in Church House— I must emphasise that it is not the object of the Bill to disestablish the Church. The Church should never be disestablished for the good reason that Parliament should always concern itself in the Church's affairs. The twin forces which bind society are law and religion. Too often it is thought that Parliament should concern itself exclusively with the law whereby a citizen can protect his rights against the rights of other citizens. But to maintain the cohesion of society, which is the essential function of any Government, the law is not enough. The Government must also concern themselves with the duties we owe to one another, even though this may happen also to be the province of the Church and religion.

Furthermore, I would question the basis of lay representation in the Synod in the government of the Church whose function is to make sure that we should observe our duties. Synodical Government is so complicated that there is little contact between the man in the pew and his representative in the Synod. During the debate on the Diocese Measure just before Christmas the noble Lord, Lord Denham, said that he had no idea who his representative in the Synod was, and, what was much more to the point, the man in the Synod had no idea what was being thought by the noble Lord, Lord Denham, or the thousands of others whom he represents.

The parish elects a representative to the Deanery Synod; the Deanery Synod elects a representative to the diocesan synod; and the diocesan synod elects a representative to the General Synod. It is I believe all this gearing, and the consequent remoteness of the General Synod from the man in the pew, which helps to account for how the desire for the new services has come down from the Synod. A challenge must be laid down to anyone who says any of this has come up from the pews.

Such are the considerations I would adduce for submitting that no harm can come from initiating the subject of this Bill from Parliament. Coming now at last to the subject of the Bill itself, which I have initiated as a Parliamentary gesture, I am hoping that noble Lords on the Government side may be pleased with its strongly democratic character. There is no doubt that the Book of Common Prayer carries reactionary connotations which it does not deserve. One noble Lord—the noble Lord, Lord Sandys, in point of fact—once remarked to me that there were three subjects in better days gone by which were bound to draw a good attendance of noble Lords to your Lordships' House: deerstalking, capital punishment, and the Book of Common Prayer. I am most indebted to the noble Baroness, Lady Stedman, for consulting with the noble Lord, Lord Wells-Pestell, as a lay reader, for furnishing me with a list of about a dozen Labour Peers who, I have hoped, may help to remove from the Book of Common Prayer for the purposes of this debate something of its reactionary image. Whether the Bill will be pleasing to the bishops is I anticipate going to be another matter.

But I am afraid that if the bishops oppose the Bill during the Second Reading, then they will be depriving themselves during the Committee stage of turning the Bill into one very much to their own liking. During the Committee stage any bishop could put down an Amendment whereby the results of the ballot would cease to be mandatory and the ballot would be turned into a consultative referendum. Thereafter, the Bill would no longer oppose the 1974 Measure but actually reinforce it. The Bill would then have to be welcomed by every bishop for giving to parochial church councils access to important information which they might not otherwise possess. Any bishop who, in these circumstances, wishes to continue to oppose the Bill would be denying democracy can function better by an extension of knowledge.

There are three further more particular observations that I should like to make on the Bill. The first is that I have not insisted that the Book of Common Prayer services should be given in their entirety. All that is required is that, if the ballot so decides, services should be wholly drawn upon the Book of Common Prayer. Some of the services in the Book of Common Prayer are very long. The service of Holy Communion, for example, requires the recitation of each of the Ten Commandments at every service, the long exhortation, and so on, and I thought it was most important to allow some shortening in order to prevent malicious incumbents from inflicting the full length on unwilling congregations just in order to alienate them from the Book of Common Prayer. My attention was drawn recently to a malicious incumbent who did exactly this.

My second observation concerns the objection which has been put to me that entitlement of all members of the electoral roll to vote must split the parish between those who worship regularly every Sunday and carry the weight of the local church on their shoulders, and those who worship infrequently or at whim but would still be entitled to vote under the ballot because the qualifications for membership of the church electoral roll relate only to baptism and residence.

I circumvented this difficulty as far as possible by providing that the ballot should not be a postal one but that parishioners should actually have to go to church on a Sunday in order to cast their votes. I thought I should go as far as this, and no further, because it seemed to me that to do otherwise would be to exclude infrequent worshippers from the Church of England, and infrequent worshippers should never be excluded in such a way, because then the Church of England would be reduced to a mere sect and would lose its traditional role as the Established Church whereby all parishioners can claim ministrations and have rights of worship.

The third observation I should like to make concerns enforcement. After their humiliation in 1928, the bishops carried on with their alternative services in defiance of the law, and Parliament did nothing to see that the law was obeyed. All that Parliament did, many years later, was to sanction retrospectively what had been the illegal practice of the Church. It is possible that if the Bill became law it would be similarly disregarded. Because this is a liberal society, I have avoided putting in any penalty clause and have merely required that the Bill should be enforced by the archdeacon, knowing that an archdeacon has extensive executive powers ex-officio and is well able to apply appropriate pressures. However, if the clergy are to develop a strong and independent character and wish to run counter to the archdeacon, then it may be necessary to alter the Bill, having regard to the Act of Parliament of the last century on church vestments, where the parishioners could rely for enforcement on the civil courts.

In conclusion, I should like to say how important it is to follow the purpose of the Bill in never allowing the old services to go under when, against the wishes of the incumbent, parishioners would like to carry on with them. I shall not dwell on the question of language: suffice it to say that while claiming to be more comprehensible to the ordinary person, the new services allow the Kyrie to be given in Greek, and the Book of Common Prayer is actually much easier to understand than Shakespeare. Everyone goes to Shakespeare, even though his vocabulary is much richer than that of the Book of Common Prayer and, as Dr. Johnson said: The language of Shakespeare is much too tight a case for the poet's thought". It seems to me that much more serious issues are involved than language. It is sometimes said that the new services serve much better than the old in the drive towards ecumenism, but that argument ignores the skill with which the Book of Common Prayer is written and its quality of comprehension in accommodating every shade of theological opinion with a nicety which has been the wonder of scholars down the centuries. Furthermore, the argument inverts the more likely truth that, so far from taking us towards ecumenism, the new services will take us in the opposite direction, towards schism. Already, in the United States the abandonment of the old doctrine of the Book of Common Prayer as well, confessedly, as the issue of the ordination of women, has led to the formation of a breakaway Anglican Church; and congregations which have dissociated themselves in this way have a bone to pick with their bishops over the possesion of Church buildings and the matter often ends up in a law court. Schism of such a kind is much more likely to arise where the doctrine of the Book of Common Prayer is affected.

Until very recently, even though we are an episcopal Church, the doctrine of the Church of England, in so far as this is contained in the Book of Common Prayer, was enshrined in a series of Parliamentary Statutes. I know that the Canon A 5 and the 1974 Measure do not permit any departure from the doctrine of the Book of Common Prayer, but it is worthy of remark that, historically, doctrine has been achieved by liturgical change and, in point of fact, the new services have already departed from the doctrine of the Book of Common Prayer. The authors of the new services always were in this danger, partly through being spellbound by Gregory Dix—as wrong on theology as Keynes was on economics—and asserting that Cramner was a Zwinglian, and partly through their desire to revert to early patristic practices which may vary from the orthodoxy of Cramner.

Now, two practical examples have emerged where the alternative services have departed from the doctrine of the Book of Common Prayer, and I should like to cite them. The first is that the sacraments can no longer be regarded in their fullest sense as an efficacious sign. In Series 3, Holy Communion no longer conveys forgiveness of sins. Our Lord said: Drink ye all of this, for this is my Blood … which is shed for you … for the remission of sins". Yet Series 3 omits the words: that our sinful bodies may be made clean by His body, and our souls washed through His most precious blood". The second example I should like to give concerns the Deity of Christ, the asseveration of which is the cardinal object of our Creed. In Series 3 the phrase, being of one substance with the Father", has been replaced by the phrase, one in being with the Father". The latter phrase, "one in being", indicates merely a generic unity among the persons of the Trinity, when we know from Athanasius that the Nicene Council did not intend to give that interpretation to the word "homoousian".

To readers of Gibbon, this may seem to be a matter of absurd and esoteric significance, but in fact it is nothing of the sort. The Deity of Christ, which is undoubtedly weakened by the alteration of the phrase which I have just indicated, is the lynch-pin of all Christianity if it is not to be subverted into a world religion. Whether it should be so subverted is a highly pertinent contemporary issue. The Deity of Christ has already been questioned by Professor Maurice Wiles, who has been chairman of the Synodical Commission on Christian Doctrine, and where ever the Divinity of our Lord is assailed by those doubts the reality of his atonement is put at risk and the door opened to the politicians who wish to achieve the secular Nirvana of the Marxists.

I have concluded on the rather-too-high note of the Christian-Marxist dialogue. To revert to the practicalities with which I began, I am hoping that this Bill may, at the very least, provide a useful discussion on whether the 1974 Measure has provided the best machinery for deciding whether we want the old or the new services. Even if the Bill is not carried in a Division, I hope that the mere fact that it has been introduced will oblige the Synod to look at the whole matter again and enact a new Measure providing better safeguards for the Book of Common Prayer. I beg to move.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(Lord Sudeley.)

5.8 p.m.

The Lord BISHOP of LONDON rose to move, as an Amendment to the Motion ("that the Bill be now read a Second Time"), to leave out all the words after ("that") and insert ("this House declines to give the Bill a Second Reading because (1) the safeguards contained in Clause 1(3)(a) and (b) of the Church of England (Worship and Doctrine) Measure 1974 are sufficient; (2) the Bill would override the functions and powers of Parochial Church Councils contained in the Synodical Government Measure 1969; and (3) the Bill would, without consultation with the General Synod, alter the provisions for the Synodical Government of the Church of England, approved by Parliament and contained in the Synodical Government Measure 1969".). The right reverend Prelate said: My Lords, I beg leave to move the Amendment which stands in my name on the Order Paper. The noble Lord, Lord Sudeley, was good enough to correspond with me and others about his intention of introducing this Bill and to give us an opportunity to express an opinion on its purpose and content.

It is a matter of regret to me that he did not feel able to accept the advice that I offered to him, as did others, not to introduce this Bill. I am therefore forced to have to ask your Lordships to refuse a Second Reading to it. I must add that I am sorry it should be introduced in Holy Week, since this prevents many of my colleagues on these Benches from being present, as they are engaged on duties in their dioceses.

I must also express a note of great regret that the noble Lord vitiated his speech by a totally erroneous and offensive suggestion that the presentation of the Worship and Doctrine Measure in this House was rigged purposely to coincide with the retirement of the late Archbishop of Canterbury, to invoke sympathy for him and therefore to get the Affirmative Resolution without a proper debate and vote. That has no truth whatsoever. So far as I can remember, the Measure went through all its stages in the General Synod and came to this place as soon as possible. But it was thought desirable that it should come before the late Archbishop of Canterbury retired, so that he could speak to what was one of the most important Measures in the Church and State relationship. So far as my memory goes, that was the only reason. That particular date was the only occasion when it could be brought and Archbishop Michael Ramsey could speak to it.

My regret in having to oppose this Bill is all the more sincere, since the noble Lord and those who support him, and I myself and many others who sit on these Benches and elsewhere, do not differ in our fundamental convictions. We love and are loyal to the Church of England. We believe in its mission to the people of this country. We want it to be strong. We want to rid it of internal dissension, so that it may concentrate on the primary purpose of service to the people. We recognise that at the heart of the Church's life is its common worship. We acknowledge the splendour of the 1662 Book of Common Prayer. We love its superb language and find satisfaction in its liturgical craftsmanship.

But—and here I hope that we also agree—we recognise that the Church of England cannot stand aside from the liturgical revival which is operating throughout the whole of Christendom, and to which, with its long experience, the Church of England has a particular contribution to make. I hope, also, that we appreciate that there are many whom the Church is striving to serve, for whom the language of Cranmer and the 16th century reformers is meaningless, and for whom new services must be provided if worship is to be relevant.

Why, then, since there is so broad a field of agreement, should there be disagreement about the noble Lord's Bill? What could be more reasonable than that, when there is a proposal for a change in the form of services in a parish, there should be a ballot of the parishioners? The answer lies in the fact that this Bill, superficially so innocent, contains the seeds of strife at the parish level, and of constitutional crisis at the national level. I can claim some experience in these matters, since I have served as a parish priest, in ecclesiastical administration and as a bishop for 43 years. I can assure your Lordships that, far from bringing peace, this Bill is a recipe for bitterness and controversy in our parishes, and should it become law it will immediately reopen the controversy concerning the relationships of Church and State.

This has rumbled on for over a century and has, so we all hope, been laid to rest by the enabling Act of 1919, the Synodical Government Measure of 1949, the Worship and Doctrine Measure of 1974 and the agreement between Church and State over the method by which bishops shall be appointed. At long last, these issues have been settled, we hope once and for all. The State has given to the Church the authority to order its own affairs, subject only to the machinery of the Affirmative Resolution. If this Bill were to become law, all these controversies would be reopened and the Church's attention would again be directed to administrative problems and away from its proper functions of evangelism and pastoral care.

The noble Lord has said that we must take threats of disestablishment with a pinch of salt. My Lords, let there be no doubt about the basic issue which is raised by the introduction of this Bill. The noble Lord, Lord Sudeley, has said that his reason for doing so is that the legal safeguards in the Book of Common Prayer are such that he is of the opinion that, more often than not, new forms of service are imposed on a reluctant laity, either because of the moral authority of the Parochial church council, or because of its lack of it. He says that his Bill would overturn this present state of affairs by giving a parish just the form of service that it wants. That may be the superficial purpose of this Bill, but basically it is an attack upon the whole system of Church government. That system has been approved by your Lordships' House, and the passing of this Bill would be interpreted by the Church as a grave breach of faith on the part of Parliament. I hope that there will be no room for doubt in your Lordships' minds on that issue.

In my reasoned Amendment to the Bill, I have set out the three main objections to it. First, it disregards and overrides the careful safeguards written into the Church of England (Worship and Doctrine) Measure 1974. It was to the issue of the protection of the 1662 rite that the General Synod gave special and prolonged scrutiny in formulating the Measure.

First, the Measure states that, until Parliament decides otherwise, the 1662 rite shall remain a lawful alternative service and it can cease to be only by permission of Parliament. I shall be saying a word in a moment or two about the questions of doctrine, which the noble Lord has raised. I would remind the House that, so long as the 1662 Book remains part of the law of the land, it is the major source of information and guidance as to what is, or is not, the doctrine of the Church of England.

Secondly, that Worship and Doctrine Measure specifically lays down in Section 1(3)(a): that decisions as to which of the forms of service authorised by or approved under Canon are to be used in any church in a parish or in any guild church shall be taken jointly by the incumbent and the parochial church council or … by the vicar of the guild church and the guild church council". In earlier drafts of the Measure, this requirement of consensus between the incumbent and the parochial church council was considered to be adequate. But further consideration suggested the need for some form of conciliatory machinery, and so, in the second draft of the Measure, it was provided that in cases of disagreement the bishop should be consulted and his decision should be final.

This requirement was approved by the General Synod, but it came under considerable fire, both from members of the Synod and from outside. If I may quote from a speech that I made in the General Synod on 6th November 1973 I remarked that these misgivings arose in the minds of those who chief concern was to ensure that, when a parish desires to use the 1662 Prayer Book, there can be no question but that they shall have it". The Standing Committee, and the legal advisers to the Synod, wrestled with this problem and as a result, in order to bend over backwards to meet the desire of those who wanted a cast-iron protection of the use of the 1662 rite where the parish wanted it, the Synod took the very unusual step of suspending standing orders and introducing a second revision stage.

At this second revision, on amendment, the discretionary power of the Bishop was removed, and in its place the following section was inserted into the Measure and became law. I do not want to burden the House with detail, but this is so important to our debate that I must quote it in full. This is Section 1(3)(b): in case of disagreement"— that is, between the incumbent and the parochial church council— and so long as the disagreement continues, the forms of service to be used in that church shall be those contained in the Book of Common Prayer unless other forms of service so approved were in regular use therein during at least two of the four years immediately preceding the date when the disagreement arose and the said council resolves that those other forms of service shall be used either to the exclusion of, or in addition to, the forms of service contained in the said Book.".

I personally introduced this Amendment into the Synod on 6th November 1973. In explanation I stated that the way it would work would be that where there is disagreement in a parish, so long as it lasts the Book of Common Prayer shall be used, except that the parochial church council may require that if there has been a pattern of worship existing for two years—and it seemed that four years overall was a reasonable time to go back—it could require that the practice shall return to that pattern until the disagreement has been solved. This solution satisfied the objectors and was written into the Measure. The Measure was accepted by this House. Its provisions are available to all who want to avail themselves of it.

The noble Lord is, however, of the opinion that there is a body of reluctant laity upon whom new services are being imposed, or who are being deprived of the 1662 rite, and who are not protected because the parochial church council is too shy to argue with the vicar; and he is of the opinion that a referendum of the members of the parish whose names are on the electoral roll would redress this grievance. I do not know what experience the noble Lord has of parochial church councils. I have had a great deal of experience of them. My difficulty has always been to persuade them to do what I want, rather than having obsequious parochial church councils who do everything that I bid them to do. I am sure that is the experience of most of the clergy with their parochial church councils, as it is of bishops who have to deal with them—as, for instance, over the Rights of Presentation Measure when a patron is exercising his authority.

I have no evidence to suggest that the safeguards which have been so carefully inserted into the Measure are proving ineffective. I have consulted a number of bishops. The noble Lord did not tell us who were the three he has consulted. I should have no hesitation in telling the House who I have consulted. Bishops hear from time to time from aggrieved individuals and we do our best to put these matters right pastorally. Of course we know of clergy who are over-enthusiastic, and perhaps lacking in tact, and we do our best to try to smooth over those difficulties. However, I have consulted my fellow bishops in the London diocese, which is the largest diocese in the country. Together we care for some 600 parishes. We are aware of trouble in only one parish. I have made inquiries of other bishops and their experience is very much the same. For instance, I have consulted the Bishop of Chichester, a diocese in which there is a very large number of retired people who, one would have thought, would be the most aggrieved if they did not have the opportunity to worship according to the 1662 rite. The Bishop of Chichester told me that he would consult his staff, and he wrote: There was complete agreement among the staff about what I had said"— which was that he had found no trouble— and none of those present had any evidence of any trouble over the working of the Worship and Doctrine Measure. I consulted the Bishop of Guildford—


My Lords, I wonder whether the right reverend Prelate would allow me to make one observation. I am in the See of Chichester, where there has been trouble. The people who disagree with the changes just do not go to Church. Their protest is mute.

The Lord Bishop of LONDON

My Lords, I am afraid that I can answer the noble Baroness only by saying that those people have every opportunity to make their feelings known. Why do they not write to the Bishop and give him the opportunity to inquire into the matter and, if necessary, put it right? The Bishop of Guildford told me that his liturgical secretary in the diocese had recently attended a conference of diocesan liturgical secretaries, and that he took the opportunity to ask in general terms how the Worship and Doctrine Measure was working. About 30 dioceses were represented, and the Bishop of Guildford tells me that in none of them had a formal complaint been made and that the safeguards embodied in the Measure were regarded as entirely sufficient and satisfactory.

Finally, I consulted the Bishop of Sheffield, a very different kind of diocese. He waited until he had been able to consult his rural deans and then he told me: I have deliberately delayed writing until now as I happened to have a meeting of rural deans arranged for today and I have been able to consult them about the matter. They endorse my own clear impression that there has been no trouble in parishes here as a result of the introduction of new services. I am satisfied that proper consultation has taken place, that the laity are not being ignored and that the safeguards in the Worship and Doctrine Measure are not being overridden. My clear impression, now fortified by consultation with the rural deans today, is that the procedure in the Worship and Doctrine Measure is being followed and the situation seems quite satisfactory to me. Of one thing I am quite sure. If it is the desire of the noble Lord to bring peace and goodwill to the Church, then I can imagine few expedients less likely to achieve this laudable end than the Bill that he has introduced. I and my brother bishops know the life of our parishes from the inside. We know the problems that the Bill would create.

I mention in passing the considerable practical difficulties contained in the Bill. The secretary of the parochial church council, a voluntary officer, is to be required to circularise all those on the electoral roll—in many of our London parishes we have 500 or more names on the electoral rolls—and to conduct a ballot over seven successive Sundays. Archdeacons have more than enough to do without having to chase up parishes to see whether they are conforming.

The noble Lord mentioned the question of enforcement. I have taken legal advice about this. The noble Lord gave a hint—I think I am right in interpreting it that way—that he would like something along the lines of the Public Worship Regulation Act to be introduced. I would only remind the noble Lord that as a result of that Act, certain clergymen had to go to prison, simply because of the way in which they conducted worship. I do not believe that in these days anybody would wish to repeat that experience.

I am told that this is not a Bill which would be passed for the benefit of the public and which would therefore be enforced. It would be a voluntary Act for the benefit of parishioners. If they did not wish to operate it, nobody outside the parish would have any interest in compelling them to do so. Therefore it is very difficult to see how the provisions of this Bill could be enforced against the will of a parish. But what would more seriously disrupt the life of a parish would be for power to be given to a disaffected minority, who did not like the decisions of the incumbent and the parochial church council, to be able to appeal over the heads of their elected representatives, over the heads of the statutory annual general meeting of the parish, to parishioners who were not prepared to come out into the open and state, and if necessary fight for, their rights but who would hide behind the anonymity of a secret ballot. I can conceive of nothing that would harm the peace and happiness of a parish more than that.

But the implications of the Bill go far beyond the confines of any individual parish. They strike at the very heart of the relationship of Church and State in this country. That relationship has often been under severe strain, and never more so than during the past 100 years. As a result of painstaking negotiation, a way has been forged whereby Church and State may work peacefully and profitably together. The Church of England Assembly (Powers) Act 1919, known as the Enabling Act, gave to the Church of England a body which could legislate for its life, subject only to the Affirmative Resolution procedure. The Synodical Government Measure 1969 extended the scope of the Enabling Act by including among the powers of the new Synod those of the old clerical Convocations. Thus it gave to the laity equal authority alongside the bishops and the clergy for the government of the Church of England. The Worship and Doctrine Measure, among other things, gave the power to order worship and to decide upon the doctrine of the Church of England.

The noble Lord has mentioned that in his opinion the Church of England is departing from the doctrine of the Church of England. I must remind him, first, that it is the General Synod that has the power to decide what is the doctrine of the Church of England. The final approval by the General Synod—I read from the Measure— of such canon or regulation or form of service or amendment thereof shall conclusively determine that the Synod is of such an opinion as aforesaid with respect to the matter so approved". He did not give me notice of the particular instances he was going to give, and therefore I must speak from memory; but my impression is that the word "incarnate" is excluded in the Creed in what are known as the ICET texts, which are texts approved by all Christian communions including the Roman Catholic. But even so my latest information is that probably the Church of England will put back the word, "incarnate", though I cannot be absolutely sure because I cannot consult my authorities. What was the other point he raised?


That Holy Communion conveys forgiveness of sin.

The Lord Bishop of LONDON

My Lords, it may not be in at that particular point, but I think, if the noble Lord reads the service carefully, he will find that the whole question of forgiveness and penitence is included in different ways in the service. At any rate I would remind him that the Book of Common Prayer remains one of the standards of the doctrines of the Church of England and the General Synod contains a great many learned and experienced theologians, a great many of whom are not radicals such as the noble Lord has quoted.

I am afraid I must also remind the House of the structure which the Church of England has been given by these various Measures that have been approved by Parliament. The Church of England has a carefully constructed chain of responsibility in its government and it is highly democratic. Every baptised member of the Church of England over 17 may enter his or her name on the electoral roll of a parish. All such persons are entitled to be present at the statutory annual parish meeting, to stand for election if so minded and to elect representatives to the Deanery Synod and to the parochial church council. They are moreover entitled to: … ask any question about parochial church matters, or bring about a discussion of any matter of parochial or general church interest, by moving a general resolution or by moving to give any particular recommendation to the council in relation to its duties". There is a highly democratic system whereby all those who are sufficiently interested in the life of the Church to put their name on the electoral roll may turn up at the annual general meeting and may move resolutions and make speeches of that nature.

The Deanery Synods, which are drawn from the parochial church councils, elect their clerical and lay representatives to the Diocesan Synod. In the General Synod, the governing body of the Church of England, which normally meets in London three times a year, the House of Clergy is elected by the licensed clergy of the whole Church, and the House of Laity by the lay members of the Deanery Synods. Therefore, there is a clear and carefully defined chain of representation in the governing assemblies of the Church. It is a democratic system, for all Church people are entitled to place their names on the electoral roll of the parish, to seek election to its assemblies, to make their views known and to seek to persuade others, if need be, to their point of view. This is a system approved by Parliament; it is working well and it is to be trusted. If, therefore, at this juncture we were to insert into the system a new element of a ballot on certain issues, designed to throw into question the competence and the wisdom of the clergy and of the parochial church councils, such action would disrupt the pattern of church government and cause deep resentment among those, clerical and lay, who give so much time and care to the running of church affairs.

Moreover, the passing of this Bill would call into question the genuineness of the agreement between Church and State. By the passing of the Enabling Act, the Synodical Government Measure and the Worship and Doctrine Measure, Parliament acknowledged the right of the Church to govern itself and agreed to the setting up of constitutional bodies at every level, reserving to itself only the minimal control of the Affirmative Resolution. In consequence, since the Enabling Act in 1919, as the noble Lord has reminded us, there has not been a single Act of Parliament controlling Church affairs other than those which have emanated from the initiative of the Church and which for technical reasons, or because they related to other Churches, needed an Act of Parliament rather than a Church Assembly or a General Synod Measure.

The Bill before us is the first attempt since the Enabling Act to try to persuade Parliament to legislate for the Church ab extra, from outside, and I may add without any form of consultation with the assemblies of the Church which this House helped to establish. If it were to become law, the Church would regard it as a breach of faith on the part of Parliament and a grave discourtesy to those entrusted by Parliament with Church government. It would undoubtedly raise the whole question of the Church and State nexus and would give ammunition to those who favour disestablishment, and at the very time when by recent legislation and agreement we have moved into a relationship satisfactory to both sides.

I indicated at the beginning of my speech that I have some sympathy with the basic concerns with which this Bill attempts to deal. In closing, I would make one observation and ask one question. The observation is that you cannot, except in the broadest terms, legislate for a lack of sensitivity, tactlessness or an absence of wisdom. We all—laiety, clergy and bishops—are guilty of these faults from time to time, and only Christian love and pastoral care can overcome them.

Secondly, I ask the question that I have asked before in this House. It is this: if the noble Lord and those who sympathise with his point of view are so dissatisfied with the practice of Church government why do they not employ the means which Parliament has provided for just such an eventuality, so that they may try to get the Church to change its practice?

In other words, why does not the noble Lord and those who think like him seek election to the parochial church council, to the Deanery or Diocesan Synod or to the General Synod and there plead their cause and seek to change the law through the legislative assemblies provided by Parliament for the purpose? Why do they not appear at the annual meeting and there invoke their right to question and to initiate debates? Why do they not bring their complaint before the bishops? Why do they not make the speeches which they make in this House to those in the councils of the Church most concerned with what they have to say? Why do they not persuade friends who are in the General Synod to table a Private Member's Motion so that the matter can be debated in the General Synod? It is there and not here where these matters should be resolved.

I very much hope that, after debate, the noble Lord will be able to tell the House that he does not intend to press his Bill to a Division. If he does that, I shall be ready to withdraw my Amendment. If not, I am afraid I shall have to press it.

Moved, as an Amendment to the Motion ("that the Bill be now read a Second Time"), to leave out all the words after ("that") and insert ("this House decline to give the Bill a Second Reading because (1) the safeguards contained in Clause 1(3)(a) and (b) of the Church of England (Worship and Doctrine) Measure 1974 are sufficient; (2) the Bill would override the functions and powers of Parochial Church Councils contained in the Synodical Government Measure 1969; and (3) the Bill would, without consultation with the General Synod, alter the provisions for the Synodical Government of the Church of England, approved by Parliament and contained in the Synodical Government Measure 1969.").—(The Lord Bishop of London.)

5.40 p.m.


My Lords, although the subject matter of this Bill lies outside the sphere of secular and temporal concerns in which Her Majesty's Ministers are normally immersed, the Government have given some thought to the contents of this Bill and to the advice which they could properly—I say "properly"—offer to the House upon it. Therefore for that reason it may be helpful if I now intervene and put before your Lordships some reflections on the Bill, which I hope your Lordships will take into account along with the views expressed by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London and those views to be expressed by a number of distinguished Members of your Lordships' House who are taking part in this debate, when you decide whether the proposals in the Bill should receive the approval of your Lordships' House. I must confess that I find this a time when I regret that I am not occupying another Bench in your Lordships' House rather than being here at the Dispatch Box, but that is one of the penalties which one accepts.

My Lords, the purpose of the Bill has been described to your Lordships by the noble Lord, Lord Sudeley, and his intention, as stated in Clause I of the Bill, is to ensure that the adoption or continued use of a form of service not wholly drawn from the Book of Common Prayer should require the approval not merely of the incumbent and the parochial church council, but of a majority of the people whose names appear on the parish electoral roll. Let me say that I am not quite sure how Clause 1 is to be reconciled with subsection (1) of Clause 3, which seems to envisage—and I may be wrong about this—that an alternative form of service may be used on one Sunday in three, even though it has not been approved by the majority of the parishioners, if the number voting in favour of retaining the Book of Common Prayer is less than two-thirds of the number of people on the electoral roll. Indeed, still greater problems could arise over reconciling Clause 1 and Clause 3 if, as I fear would be all too likely, the number of parishioners who actually voted was substantially less than the number entitled to vote. However, I think the general intention of the noble Lord's Bill is fairly clear, though I have some doubt whether the noble Lord has fully considered the amount of trouble and expense to which hard-working and impecunious parochial church councils would be put in giving effect to the Bill, and especially the requirements of Clause 2.

The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London has put the case against the Bill, which is in his Amendment, in a very cogent speech. His Amendment sets before us three separate reasons for refusing the Bill a Second Reading, but in his speech I felt he laid most emphasis on the point that, as he put it, this Bill is not about the merits or otherwise of the Book of Common Prayer and of the alternative services; as he drew to your Lordships' attention, the fact is that it is about the government of the Church of England, and this is an important and, if I may say so, a crucial point, to which I will return later.

First, I should like to assure the noble Lord, Lord Sudeley, that I differ in no way from him in admiring the value of the Book of Common Prayer. I will not say anything more, because I think it is a remarkable book. It has always played a central part in the spiritual life of the Church of England, and is now, I believe, recognised by all Christian Churches in this country as a unique and, I would say, precious element in the English national heritage. I would like to think that is so. I also understand the concern felt by the noble Lord and probably by many others within your Lordships' House, and certainly outside the House, over the extent to which that Book is being superseded in the daily life of worship of the Church by forms of service of a much more recent origin.

But, as the House well knows, it is not only in the Church of England that a need for change and development in forms of worship has been felt. Over the last 20 years Western Christendom as a whole has in many ways been seeking, and I think achieving, renewal, not least in the forms and language of worship. In particular the Churches have each been attempting to draw lay people more fully into active participation in public worship, and for that reason, among others, have sought to bring the language of worship closer to that which people would naturally and spontaneously use to convey the thoughts and feelings that their worship is meant to express. It is in no way surprising that the Church of England, which with other Churches in the reformed tradition prides itself on speaking a language "understanded of the people", should also move in this direction, though with probably a good deal of deliberate speed.

My Lords, sadly, the move towards modernising the language of Christian liturgy in the English speaking world has come at a time which spiritually may be the right moment, but which linguistically has, I think, been ill-chosen. Four centuries ago the genius of the English language, allied to that of Cranmer and his collaborators, was well suited to the framing of prayers to be used in public worship which were at once plain, terse and vigorous in wording, and yet with a certain formality of structure and rhythm that one instinctively feels to be appropriate to an occasion set somewhat apart from the daily mundane routine of life. But most attempts to achieve similar results in contemporary English seem to have fallen short of that standard.

To say that is not to endorse all the sweeping criticisms which have been made of the modern alternative forms of service, and of those who have worked hard on drafting them. It no doubt has been a serious attempt to try to meet what people think is a need these days. It is merely to acknowledge that the material with which they have had to work, the English language as we know it in the second half of the 20th century, is very poor material for such a purpose, and much of the end product is disappointingly stodgy. It is unsatisfying to some, it is uninspiring, remote alike from some of the ordinary language of daily life and from that which people feel is suitable on religious occasions.

This sense of disappointment with the results of employing modern English as the language of the liturgy is, I know, felt not only in the Church of England but also among members of the Roman Catholic Church in this country. It results from limitations imposed by the language itself as a medium of prayer, not by the failings of those who have tried to use it for that purpose. We have none the less to remind ourselves that providence does not seem generally to have attached as much importance by providing Christendom with a suitable language in which to express itself as some Christians would have wished. The New Testament was written in a rather different kind of Greek from that of 5th century Athens, falling—at least so I am told—far short of the clarity, precision and elegance which one would have liked. The early Fathers of the Church for the most part disdained all sophistication of language. Perhaps, after all, the qualities which make the English Prayer Book so great a literacy as well as a religious achievement should be seen as no more than a happy accident which we cannot hope to preserve for all future time. There is, indeed, a dilemma here for the Church of England and, perhaps, for Christian Churches all over the world.

As so many of your Lordships have an interest in this matter as members of the Church of England, it is fitting that we should have an opportunity to discuss the problem especially when we are able to have the benefit of a contribution to our discussion from the right reverend Prelates on the episcopal Bench. Whatever is the outcome of the Bill of the noble Lord, Lord Sudeley, I cannot think that it can serve anything other than a useful purpose to have had this discussion. However, it is one thing for this House to discuss the question; it would be quite another thing, and in my view a bad thing, if your Lordships' House or Parliament collectively were now to seek to impose on the Church of England new arrangements of the kind set out in the noble Lord's Bill.

I wish to remind your Lordships that four years ago Parliament approved the Church of England (Worship and Doctrine) Measure which gave the General Synod power to make provision, without further reference to Parliament, for the introduction of new forms of service as alternatives to those contained in the Book of Common Prayer. I may have misunderstood the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London, but I thought he said that Synod had the right to determine doctrine. I should want to look that up. I am not sure whether the Measure does, in fact, give the Synod right to determine doctrine, but that is a personal point of view and, as I say, I may be quite wrong about it.

The Church of England (Worship and Doctrine) Measure not only passed the General Synod by an overwhelming majority of 340 votes to 10, but was approved by both Houses of Parliament only after a very full debate and after a Division in another place, but no Division in your Lordships' House. It would be quite wrong of Parliament, having given the representative body of the Church considerable powers of self-government in matters of liturgy which lie at the very heart of the Church's corporate life, now to try to resume the initiative and to legislate for the Church in liturgical matters.

It is often said that the General Synod is not truly representative of the mind of the Church on this issue, that it is quite out of touch with the ordinary churchgoer and his preferences. I feel that we, in this Chamber, are the last people who should claim to be judges of what is or is not a representative body. We can be sure—and should take as our guiding principle in this matter—that neither of the two Houses of Parliament, as they exist today, is fitted to intervene in the worship of the Church of England and to substitute our own judgment for that of the General Synod.

The Synod—I am aware of what I am saying in this respect—like other bodies, no doubt has its imperfections. Some of us who are in the Church of England certainly think so. However, it is the best representative body that the Church of England has at present. It is for that reason that I hope that this full and interesting debate which we have only just started—I want to repeat to the noble Lord, Lord Sudeley, what I said a little time ago—will serve a very useful purpose in bringing home not only to the right reverend Prelates, but to the wider field of authority, the Synod itself, the disquiet which perhaps some people feel. Indeed, that would be some achievement.

It is not often that I have seen as many of your Lordships present in this Chamber to discuss a matter of this kind, and it is art indication of how strongly people feel. In view of that, I hope that the noble Lord will feel able at the end of this debate to say that it has served a useful purpose and will be willing to seek leave to withdraw the Bill. If, on the other hand, the noble Lord takes the view—and it would be quite right and proper for him to do so—that he wants a decision on the part of your Lordships with regard to his proposals, I think that I must say on behalf of the Government (because Her Majesty's Government have given a good deal of thought to this matter) that we feel that the Bill should be rejected as it seeks to deal with matters of worship, and we feel that those are matters in which Parliament should no longer interfere.

It is only four years ago that both Houses passed the Church of England (Worship and Doctrine) Measure. It is not a long time ago and it would seem, if I may say so with the greatest respect to your Lordships, too soon to upset a decision which was reached only after a good deal of time, thought and consideration.

5.56 p.m.


My Lords, I speak for myself, but not, I think, against the general feeling in my Party of those who are interested in this Bill. I shall say only briefly why, though respecting the sincerity of the noble Lord, Lord Sudeley, in bringing forward this Bill, I support the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London, who has opposed it with such distinction and force.

First, although Parliament still retains the power to enact such a Bill as this, I agree with the right reverend Prelate and the noble Lord, Lord Wells-Pestell, that such matters are better now left in the hands of the Church itself, subject to the authority of the General Synod. Secondly, I also feel strongly, unlike the noble Lord, Lord Sudeley, that it is right that responsibility should be delegated to Parochial Church Councils to sort out for themselves such matters as we are concerned with.

PCCs are elected from the most active, the most concerned and the most regular attenders at church services. They know best the feelings and inclinations of the parishioners. As is well known, it is possible to have one's name added to the electoral roll with the minimum commitment and little awareness of parochial feelings, since very often the trouble is not taken to attend the annual church meeting. Thirdly, I do not agree with the implication behind the Bill that services, other than those drawn wholly from the Book of Common Prayer, are imposed on an unenthusiastic laity by somewhat unfair methods. The right reverend Prelate mentioned that point.

My experience is drawn from my own parish in Worcestershire and is very much contrary to the idea either that the majority have a service order imposed on them against their will or that it is not an entirely satisfactory form of worship. In fact, we often draw on the beauty and inspiration of the Prayer Book, but we very seldom follow strictly the order laid down there.

We allow our Rector some latitude on certain agreed lines. We have considerable variety in our orders of service which I find very refreshing. I now find in other churches that I visit that a full Prayer Book service can be somewhat heavy going and uninspiring if worked through precisely as laid down from beginning to end. The noble Lord, Lord Sudeley, supported that point of view. I realise that others will strongly disagree with me on this point, but I can only repeat that I am not happy at the implications of the Bill.

Visitors to our church react differently. Some find themselves somewhat at a loss at the form of service. However, regular churchgoers like it and visitors, even at first attendance, often comment that they find our church stimulating and alive—a combination of comfortable words and food for fresh thought. Nor, without the need for a ballot, do we forget the views of those who may be critical. An open meeting was held recently and constructive suggestions were certainly not ignored.

I think that the lot of a parish priest can be a hard one, as it is unfortunately impossible to do what everyone wants. But I can only repeat that I am in no way convinced that the introduction of the statutory necessity to hold a ballot of all on the electoral roll would really help, particularly as, as I understand it, it seems that parishioners could ignore the law. Therefore, as I said earlier, I support the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London in his Amendment.

6.1 p.m.


My Lords, first, I must apologise to the House that due to a long-standing engagement later this evening I may have to leave the House before the end of the debate. I would very sincerely ask your Lordships and particularly the noble Lord, Lord Sudeley, to excuse me on this ground.

I have great sympathy with anyone who, like the noble Lord, Lord Sudeley, presents with such clarity and fluency a case for preserving a place in our liturgy for the 1662 Prayer Book. On grounds of both doctrine and language it seems to me to be unique as a means of worship. That is not to say, however, that it can serve at all places, at all times and for all people. The issue, as it has been put by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London and the noble Lord, Lord Wells-Pestell, concerns not merely the merits of the various services but rather the fact that, as it stands, the Bill would be an attack on—and, indeed, I believe an interference with—the leadership and government of the Church as so recently set up by Parliament. I believe that it would be particularly unhelpful at this time if we were to do this, especially because the present circumstances are ones of such challenge to and opportunity for the Church.

It is on those circumstances that I should like to dwell for a few minutes. Throughout the world, the Church is under attack. There are countries where merely to be a Christian is to deny oneself the normal rights of being a citizen of that country. In other countries, the Church has to fight such evils as apartheid. In our own country, there is the widespread abandonment of Christian values, and those who try to stand by those values are accused of arrogance and prejudice. One also often hears that cruellest of lies, that there are no such things as right and wrong. As has been mentioned, even within the Church the fundamentals of Christian belief—even such basic points as the Deity of Christ and the validity of his resurrection—are subject to scepticism. That is perhaps the dark side. But there is a bright side.

Throughout the world, the Holy Spirit is on the move in action and, in certain areas, the Christian Church is growing at a rate which we have perhaps not seen since the days of Saint Augustine. I shall quote a few examples. In Africa, in the 20 years between 1950 and 1970, the number of Christians rose from 20 million to no fewer than 90 million. In Indonesia, this century, the number of Christians has increased 12 times. In South Korea—of all countries you may say—amazing things are happening. Mr. Billy Graham held a crusade there and ended up with a meeting on one of the airfields; the lower estimate of the attendance was 750,000. I am told that there are estimates that in the South Korean armed forces one in three is a "Born Again" Christian. In South America, the number of Christians is increasing at an annual compound rate of 10 per cent., and has been for many years. I heard of a church in America, which was started only 12 years ago, which now has a membership of 12,000 and at the half-yearly baptism last year there were no less than 1,080 to be baptised. Because of the size of their font, it was lucky that they were near the sea and a ready supply of water.

Even in our country it is my belief that the fall in nominal membership masks a growth in important areas—for example, among the student population and young married couples, and in the House Church movement. Now that there are fewer social pressures which lead us to go to church from convention—indeed, the reverse perhaps applies—the proportion of committed Christians among our congregations must surely be increasing. If we in this country are not to miss out on what is happening elsewhere and if the Churches are to carry out our basic mission to bring men and women to Christ in this situation of tremendous challenge and opportunity, we need leadership at all levels showing vision, daring and adaptability—adaptability, of course, within the eternal truths of the Gospel; in other words, we need the sort of leadership that was shown last week by the bishops in their statement on the future of the clergy.

Surely it was the intention of the measures of 1969 and 1974 that this leadership should be freely exercised at the top by the bishops and the General Synod and at the other end by the parochial clergy and their PCCs. The proposed Bill would be a limited vote of no confidence in the leadership at both ends. The General Synod would be placed in the most invidious position while at parish level the leadership would be restricted in one vital area. It is my belief that there is ample scope within the system of synodical government for dealing with the problem—if indeed there is one—which is mentioned in the Bill. I believe that there is no reason for us to go against the decisions of 1969 and 1974 and to take this Bill any further.

6.7 p.m.


My Lords, I am delighted—though I do not think it is quite relevant to what I have to say—to hear the noble Lord, Lord Robertson of Oakridge, refer to the splendid advance of Christianity in South Korea. It was my very great privilege, when in the Royal Navy some 12 or 13 years ago, to be visiting South Korea when the last British bishop was in charge of that area. If there is anyone who could be said to have inspired the development of Christianity among the Koreans, it was that spendid bishop. I regret to say that his name does not come hastily to me, but almost my last vision of him was of him arriving on my flight deck in a helicopter clad in a large "bone-dome" to come and take Holy Communion for us—happily, in those days Series 2 and not the dreaded Series 3.

Perhaps that gives noble Lords a clue as to why I am taking part in this debate. Maybe it is not pure chance—but it does so happen—that during the past two months' dissension, of a kind that I have never experienced in a Church of England Parish in this country, has descended upon us because there has been the overemphasis (I would not put it more strongly than that) of Series 3 being forced upon us. It seems to us—and it is just pure chance, so far as I am concerned—that my noble friend Lord Sudeley has introduced his Bill at a time when the dissension is still with us and when we are having great difficulty in dealing with it. The situation is very much as my noble friend Lady Emmet of Amberley indicated when she intervened in the speech of the right reverend Prelate and raised the situation in the diocese of Chichester, in that a great number of the parishioners are voting with their feet. Luckily in our little parish we have two churches and one set of parishioners has been firmer than the other. So we all tend to go to the other church and not to the one which, if I may so call it, is our native one—certainly, with my name, my native one. So there is a problem.

I am sure that my right reverend friend—if I may so describe the Bishop of London, having had the great privilege of living in his diocese when we were both further North than we are now—must appreciate that it is not a simple problem, and that it will not go away. The problem is that the inspiration seems to come from the representatives on the Synod. It is a difficult thing. Here are we in Parliament with perhaps a rather wider coverage of interests and attitudes than the Synod has, relatively speaking. Perhaps another place has a wider coverage of interests. Therefore, there are more people going to throw up contrary ideas on any subject which comes up. Perhaps it is that the Synod is a bit narrower in its thinking and that they all think together, more like a Party conference than a Parliamentary conference. Perhaps this is where the trouble lies.

When my noble friend moved the First Reading of his Bill I was right behind him because I thought that this subject ought to be aired, although I must confess that I was totally persuaded by the opening words of my right reverend friend that we want to rid the Church of England of internal dissension. Whatever is happening at the moment is creating, rather than getting rid of, internal dissension. If I could be sure that what is being said today in this House warns the Synod that they are playing their hand too fast, I should be happy to back the Amendment rather than the Second Reading of the Bill. But I should have to be assured—if I could be—by the right reverend Prelate that a firm and positive direction, or indication, may be given to the Synod not to go so fast; not to convince its members that it is necessary for them to go so fast.

It so happens, as I indicated in my opening remarks, that I think that Series 2 is simply splendid. It gets round a lot of the problems. Splendid though the wording is of the Prayer Book, it is in some passages a bit obscure, and indeed one has to hunt a bit to follow an ordinary service from it. So Series 2, to my mind, is excellent, and it has been brought in gently and skilfully, if I might say so to the right reverend Prelates. What has been done over the past 20 or 25 years has been excellent, in that we have had a gentle influx of Series 2 coupled with a continuing use of the Book of Common Prayer, and we have gradually moved ourselves in the space of half a generation—taking, for the moment, a generation to be 30 years—towards this point.

It is my experience, needing, in a job I had not so long ago, to persuade people to change their attitudes, that fundamental changes of attitude cannot be achieved in the short term, and indeed most matters of importance take at least a generation to get through. What I believe is happening is that the Church is endeavouring to go too fast in forcing Series 3 upon us. If the same pace of advance was taken with it as has been taken with Series 2, with a deadline of the year 2000 for the kind of things which are being said today, this would be a better pace and easier for people to assimilate and to live with.

Mind you, there are things about Series 3 that I fundamentally dislike. First, it seeks to put in new words where they are not really necessary. Why muck about with the Lord's Prayer? Anybody who is going to worship will quite quickly learn to interpret the King James' Bible version of the Lord's Prayer in which Series 2, in its wisdom, with the minor change of "which" to "who", effectively keeps the old language, and it does so with the Creed. That is why that is such a splendid balance. Why muck about with extra words?

The other more fundamental matter—and forgive me if I touch slightly on what you might call the theology of the thing—is that to me always (and perhaps this is peculiar to my generation and maybe in the next century people will think differently) the essential feature of the Communion service is that it is a private service. The morning service and the evening service are public services which you obviously share with your fellow parishioners, and you have this splendid opportunity to hear what the vicar has to tell you to give you good guidance; but the Communion service is essentially one which is private to you. It is between you and your God, with the vicar helping. That may be purely a "generation gap" viewpoint, but it is the way I have always seen it.

I, and those people who have told me why they object so much to it, feel that it is not the right service for us because within it is this encouragement to go back to be an early Christian and shake everybody. Indeed, in one church I was invited to kiss my neighbour, which I thought was rather forward and not quite proper. That is not emphasised quite so much now as it has been in some parishes. There is this fundamental change, in that the Communion service is being made a public service instead of a private one. A lot of people will find that hard to get used to. Therefore, let us play it more slowly.

It has been said, and was said in our parish when this was put across, that it is the young who want the change, and that it is better ecumenically. Maybe it is, but it is not my experience that it is the young who are for it: it is, without wishing to be too unkind, the trendy middle-aged who are for it. I am a little suspicious of them. I believe that the Church perhaps listens a bit too much to them. I think that, if only we could be given an assurance that the pressure is off, the bishops are not going to pass the word round that it is a good thing to go for Series 3, and neither is the Synod, then we would not want to be incited to produce Bills of this nature to try to persuade the narrow Synod to view the world in a wider way.

We have a lot of speakers, but one of my noble friends has told me that we should have had even more if this debate did not in fact coincide with an important social occasion affecting several of my noble friends. Therefore, I think it would be reasonable for it to be assumed that the view I have been putting across is even more widely held than the number of speakers taking part in this debate might indicate. I repeat that I hope that the right reverend Prelate can give us some assurance that there will be directions to the Synod in this respect, because it would help immensely in deciding how to vote at the end of this debate.

The Lord Bishop of SOUTHWARK

My Lords, on a point of information, may I ask the noble Lord a question following his statement that Series 3, a service which I happen not to like—and I hope he will answer my question kindly because I was one of those who wrote Series 2 some 15 or 20 years ago, for which I hope he will give me a mdeal—was forced on his church? Am I to suppose that despite the decision of the parochial church council—I presume the noble Lord may be on it or, if he is not on it, he would certainly have exercised his democratic right to vote for it—a tyrannical parson overrode their declared wishes and therefore this service was celebrated ultra vires and against the democratically elected wish of the people?


I thank the right reverend Prelate deeply for raising that point, my Lords, apart from wishing to thank him for Series 2, because I had meant to mention it but was carried away on another side of my theme. It is absolutely true to say that in the first instance our representative on the diocesan council, who also happens to sit on the Synod, and the parson, said, "We will do this". At this there was an uprising—aided by a few parishioners who thought it was a good thing—and there followed a meeting and discussion, as a result of which the whole thing was considerably modified. In that particular case the matter went wider than the parochial church council because a wider meeting was called to which everybody could come. But the trouble has been that the end result was a compromise and we have more Series 3 than we had before this all began, and people find it convenient to go to the other church or perhaps not even to go to church at all on the days when Series 3 is followed.

6.22 p.m.


My Lords, I happen to be one of those who hopes that your Lordships will give this Bill a Second Reading. I hope I am not a lone voice, and even if the noble Lord, Lord Sudeley, decides not to press it at the end of the day, I quite agree with the noble Lord, Lord Wells-Pestell, that we shall have done a great deal of good by having this debate and by having brought this matter before the notice of those who perhaps were not aware of it.

I confess that at first I was in two minds about the Bill, since the thought occurred to me that the person who should be the guide in all spiritual matters was of course the incumbent; and that is absolutely true. But this Bill is not dealing with spiritual matters; it is not seeking any change of doctrine, and it is not seeking to authorise anything that has not already been authorised by the Synod. I must emphasise that point in view of the right reverend Prelate's Amendment. The Synod has already authorised all three services, the 1662 Prayer Book and the two modern versions. What it has not authorised of course is what is contained in the Bill: namely, the ballot.

I confess that I have a great love for the Prayer Book as it stands and, I must say frankly, no very great love at all for either of the two modern versions. But it must not be thought that those of us who feel like that are only small in numbers. Far from it. Practically everybody I have spoken to on the subject, both young and old, said how much they dislike the new services and prefer the Prayer Book. But that is neither here nor there, because the Bill is not seeking to impose any of the services on the congregation; it is merely giving them a chance to voice their opinion.

Is it right that congregations should have a say as to what form of service they are given? To my mind it is, and for more than one reason. For instance, a person who attends a certain service every Sunday and is suddenly confronted with something entirely different finds it very confusing and distracting to the mind and prevents him from concentrating on what he should be thinking about. But there is another point. To those of us who love the Prayer Book very deeply, the English which it contains is lovely and generates within us a feeling of reverence that neither of the other two versions can ever give, and it is a great loss when we have to do without it.

One may say that it is still there and is still authorised, but unfortunately we cannot say whether we like it or not. Indeed, just before the House sat this afternoon I was handed a letter from a distant cousin of mine who now lives in the North saying how much she loved the Book of Common Prayer. She wrote that she had written to her vicar and asked, "Could we possibly go back to it?" —they had been having the modern services—and she got no reply. She wrote to the bishop, and the bishop wrote back saying that it was a matter for the incumbent and the parish church council. So where are you? It seems that the only hope lies in a ballot or something of that sort. I agree there are difficulties in administering such a ballot, but I believe they could be overcome and we could consider such difficulties in Committee. I am not trying to imply that I am either for or against the old services or the new ones; the Bill is not trying to force opinion either way but is merely giving an opportunity to express opinion.

The right reverend Prelate said the Bill would be a recipe for bitterness within the Church. I assure him that the bitterness is there already; there is great bitterness among those who feel they would like to have the old services back but cannot get them. He also said there was every opportunity for people to make their opinions known. I have just quoted an example of that given by my cousin, so it is clear that while people can make their opinions known, doing so does not seem to have much result. I recognise that the leadership of the Church must come from the Synod, but they would be well advised to consider the feelings of parishioners in such a matter as this.

6.29 p.m.


My Lords, I must say at the outset how much I appreciated, as I am sure did your Lordships, the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Robertson of Oakridge, because his experience and point of view expressed exactly the impression that many of us have of the resurgence of Christianity, not only in this country but throughout the world.

I came to this debate intending to take part, rather nervous of doing so in some ways but looking forward very much to hearing the arguments put forward in favour of his Bill by my noble friend Lord Sudeley. I must tell him, and I must be frank with him, that having listened to his speech I came to the conclusion that the introduction of this Bill was in the nature of a joke, produced as a result of an irresistible urge to bait the Bench of Bishops, and a contempt for the clergy and the members of parochial church councils. I confess that I have been a member of a parochial church council for a good many years, and I therefore speak from that point of view.

Like the noble Lord, Lord Somers, and others who have spoken, I love the form of service in the Book of Common Prayer the rich cadences and noble imagery, the familiarity of its phraseology from childhood, its association, also, with one of the great periods of English history. I remember walking out of a City church with my father in protest against the use at matins of the 1928 version. I can still hear the ring of my steel-tipped schoolboy shoes on the flagstones of the aisle amid the surprised silence of the rest of the congregation. But, my Lords, that was a very long time ago. Since 1945, the Church of England has, with infinite difficulty, sought and succeeded in providing itself with a means whereby its members—clergy and laity together—can determine the forms of its services and the character of its organisation. Parliament has approved this by passing a series of Measures which have been presented to it after long discussion and debate within the body of the Church of England itself.

Not long ago, I was chairman of a Select Committee of this House on the Methodist Bill, now an Act, which sought to give to the Methodist Church the same rights over its doctrine, organisation, and property as the established Church now enjoys. In my view, the Bill which my noble friend has presented is contrary to the spirit of what Parliament has given not only to the Church of England, but has now recently extended to one of its sister Churches.

Of course, my noble friend has the right as a Member of this House to introduce such a Bill as the one before us. We have the right, under the Constitution, to pass through all its stages any piece of legislation which, within the limits of our powers, commends itself to a majority of our Members. But it is inconceivable to me that we should exercise our right in relation to a matter of such importance as this, which is contrary to the whole trend of ecclesiastical legislation during the last 20 years, and which, as the right reverend Prelate has said, would effectively negative, so far as the Church of England is concerned, the independence in deciding its own doctrine, liturgy and organisation which we have so recently given to a sister Church.

Specifically, the Bill seeks to replace by referendum, parish by parish, the powers and responsibilities of the democratically elected parochial church councils, established by the Measures of 1969. Its acceptance by this House, even on Second Reading, would cause, and rightly cause, grave offence to the devoted men and women who serve on the parochial church councils, and who are—let us be frank—able to provide so much of the strength and the vitality upon which the Church depends.

It will go further than that; it will undermine the influence of the parish priest. Today the parish priest has one of the most difficult roles in the life of any community in England. I never cease to admire the way in which the younger clergy in particular tackle the vocation to which the Holy Spirit has directed them amid the apathy and materialism of the temporal world. I have watched in my own growing parish of Layer de la Haye how the wise and traditional latitude of the Church of England, in the ordering of services under the leadership of men of different generations, and supported by an active parochial church council, has led to what, in the case of our parish, as in parishes all over the country, amounts to a significant revival in both belief and observance.

That is brought out, too, by the recent statement by the bishops with regard to the future of recruitment to the clergy. There is no doubt that the Church of England is now coming back out of the shadows of the past years, and as a result will make a continuing and indeed more effective contribution to the spiritual and social life of our country. This Bill, in my view, would derogate from that.

I was chairman of the Bishop of Chelmsford's Commission for Colchester, and I had occasion to look carefully into the affairs of some 20 parishes. As a result of that experience, I came to conclusions on two points. The first was that the powers of decision available to those who shoulder responsibility for the progress and welfare of the Church of England were sadly insufficient for the proper conduct of its affairs. This Bill would reduce those powers still further.

The second conclusion was that any member of the Church can have access to the form of service which he, or she, finds most congenial to the worship of God. If it is not available in the parish in which the individual lives, he, or she, has only to take the trouble to find it in a church in the vicinity. This brings me exactly to the point that my noble friend, Lord Mottistone, has made. The individual is not deprived of worshipping in accordance with the Book of Common Prayer. He has only to take the trouble of going a very short distance, no doubt—or perhaps a long distance, for all I know—to another church in the vicinity, and there he can get the service which appeals to him. But there is no reason why, because he does not like the particular service in his own parish church, those who do like it should be deprived of it for the sake of his convenience in not having to go a few miles elsewhere.


My Lords, if the noble Lord will allow me to intervene, I should like to say that the problem is that in country parishes where we are, happily, at last getting more and more people to come to each and every church, it is tragic, when, having worked up to about 15, the congregation suddenly goes back to five because of this kind of situation. Admittedly, the people concerned can go down the road and perhaps the numbers there will go up 20, but somehow this does not seem right, and people resent it.


My Lords, I am sure that some people resent it, but the fact is that the whole health of the Church is not in any way altered by that. This Bill is therefore unnecessary if its object is to ensure that anyone who, as a matter of conscience, wishes to participate in the forms of service of the Book of Common Prayer is able to do so.

I have no doubt that those noble Lords who support the Bill in the interests of ensuring the continuation of the use of the Book of Common Prayer for matins, Holy Communion, and Evensong are entirely sincere in their objectives. But I think they should realise that the image which this presents to a vast majority of the younger members of the Church of England, on whom the future strength of the Established Church depends, is of a small group using its privileges to subvert the rights of the constituted ecclesiastical authorities, as established by Parliament, in the interests of an arid traditionalism, of some literary preciousness, and of a superficial deference to democratic ideals.

I frankly hope that my noble friend will withdraw his Bill. As the right reverend Prelate has pointed out, this will not preclude him from pursuing his objective. As a confirmed member of the Church of England, obtaining the support of his PCC, and working through the machinery of synodical government, he can persuade those who carry democratic responsibility for Church affairs to present a Measure for Parliamentary approval along the lines which he has in mind.

That is the right way to do it. This Bill is the wrong way, and it appears to me to be contrary to the interests of the Church of England and to the spirit, if not the letter, of the rights and constitutional rôle of Members of your Lordships' House. If my noble friend persists, I shall vote for the right reverend Prelate's Amendment and against a Second Reading, and I very sincerely hope that the majority of your Lordships will do likewise.

6.39 p.m.

The Earl of HALSBURY

My Lords, like the noble Lord, Lord Alport, who preceded me, I put my name down with some hesitation on the list of speakers for this debate, not knowing what I was going to say, and not feeling that Church government was my strong subject. But after reading the literature sent me by the noble Lord, Lord Sudeley, and talking to my right reverend friend, I came here this afternoon with a dichotomy in my mind. I knew that if I reacted with my heart I would follow the lead of the noble Lord, Lord Sudeley, but if I reacted with my head I should probably follow the lead of my right reverend friend.

In the result, my views have been expressed for me so perfectly by the noble Lord, Lord Wells-Pestell, that I think I can make a very short speech. The noble Lord has said nearly all that I would have said. However, there are just one or two matters that I want to take up, because if I follow the lead given by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London, my bishop, I do not want him to be under any illusion as to why my heart is very much with the noble Lord, Lord Sudeley.

We live in a very uncomfortable period of history. The episcopate and a substantial body of laity do not seem able to communicate with one another very clearly. This substantial body of the laity is characterised by moderation, non-militancy, a somewhat latitudinarian attitude to doctrine but a very marked conservatism in matters of ritual. I think that when one is engaged in an act of worship one does not want one's attention distracted by the unfamiliar; so that to repeat the familiar prayers in a familiar way is of very great importance to people.

My Lords, in this uncomfortable age in which we live we are accustomed to minorities getting control of organisations. The body of the laity of which I have spoken feels, I think, that something of the kind happens on parochial church councils and that what results is not really representative of the feeling of the moderates. We are not the only people in trouble. The Roman Church is in very severe trouble over the embargo it has placed in the hands of bishops on the performance of the old Tridentine Mass. They are interpreting their rights in this matter in a rigid way, which has offended many of the faithful.

We live not only in an uncomfortable, but a gimmicky age. We go for innovation for its own sake. Something new, however untested, must be better than something old, however well tried. Having spent my life as a professional innovator in contexts where innovation is creative, I of course have no quarrel with innovation so long as it serves a purpose; but not just innovation for its own sake. That is the gimmickry in which we, I think very wrongly, indulge in the context of worship: because there is something timeless about worship, where an actual contribution is made by feeling that you are doing exactly the same thing in exactly the same way as your longfathers of old.


My Lords, may I ask whether the noble Earl would be critical of the Reformation?

The Earl of HALSBURY

My Lords, it is one of the besetting sins of Christ's Church that it embarks on quarrels between Christian and Christian, and I regard the Protestant Reformation as perhaps one of the biggest tragedies that ever happend to Christianity: through an accident, because I think that if Cardinal Nikolas of Cusa had lived he would have reformed the Roman Church from within, whereas it had to be reformed from without—possibly both Churches better as a result.

My Lords, there are many matters in which I would treat the right reverend Prelate as an authority and be guided by him, but I would regard his views on theology as possibly sounder than his views on sampling errors, which is a branch of mathematics. I wonder how far his sincerely-held beliefs on the views that have been expressed to him are affected by sampling errors. The noble Baroness, Lady Emmet of Amberley, talked about answering with one's feet; and the noble Lord, Lord Mottistone, who I think used the adjective "trendy" for this minority which gets in control, also made the point. But there is another part of the sample which has never been counted, and I do not think it is known to the right reverend Prelate at all. That is simply those who suffer in silence. I go to worship in church to get away from the quarrels of the world. I do not want to have quarrels with my fellow Christians over matters of ritual. If they do something I do not particularly like, let them have it their way. I would sooner just sit down and get accustomed to their way of doing things. One can manage it if one really intends to do so.

So I feel that I must associate myself with the views of those who thank the noble Lord, Lord Sudeley, for having brought this matter forward. I hope that if we make our act of faith in the constitution we gave the Church in 1974 the Synod will react by studying Hansard and taking seriously everything that has been said, because it must be obvious to the Bishops' Bench that there is disquiet among the laity; and possibly these sampling errors which are influencing episcopal thought could be ironed out and eliminated.

6.45 p.m.

The Lord Bishop of ROCHESTER

My Lords, after the eloquent and magisterial speech from the right reverend and right honourable Prelate the Bishop of London it may seem presumptuous for there to be another speech from these Benches. I want to speak from the point of view of a bishop in Synod; a workaday bishop who is a glad partner with his elected clergy and his elected laity in an ordinary diocese—a quiet haven between the splendours of Canterbury and the excitements of Southwark; a diocese for which Parliament has approved the manner of its government and leadership for the 1970s. My diocesan Synod, after widespread discussion in the parishes and deaneries, gave its support in 1972, by 138 votes to nil, to the promotion of a worship and doctrine Measure. It went on to express its opinion, by 109 votes to 18, that such a Measure should include provision for amending or superseding the forms of worship contained in the Book of Common Prayer. We did not get what we asked for, any more than, more recently, we got what we asked for, along with the bishops, elected clergy and elected laity of the dioceses of London, Southwark and St. Albans, with regard to an alternative pattern for the ordering of baptism, confirmation and admission to Holy Communion. So my first point is to remind your Lordships that some dioceses and parishes are accepting a situation in 1978 which gives them less radical alternatives than they wish for, and that they are doing this in loyalty to the more cautious and conservative approach of the General Synod and of Parliament.

The second point I want to emphasise is that the alternative services (which, I would remind the noble Lord, Lord Mottistone, we have had in use for only 10 or 11 years: no more than that, and in several instances much less) have brought about, in my judgment, a revival of common prayer for the common people of England on a scale that has united Anglican parishes of all traditions of churchmanship in the same way as they are united by the Holy Bible, the Creeds and the pastoral oversight of their Fathers in God. If I may be forgiven a personal reference, on Sunday I ministered to upwards of 1,000 people in three very different parishes, in suburb, village and country town. I gave Holy Communion to 450 of them, and I administered baptism and confirmation. In the course of the day I was myself both penny plain and tuppence coloured amidst varying candlepower. At all three churches I was asked to use the alternative services, and we used the same rite in parishes of differing traditions. This would not have happened when I was first ordained—when, anyway, the alternative services in use at that time were unauthorised by Parliament.

I know I speak for many of the clergy and laity in my diocese—especially, if I may say so, for those in the suburbs, the housing areas and the development areas—when I say that the right to use services in the language of the second Elizabeth rather than of the first Elizabeth came only just in time. If the Provinces of Canterbury and York, which were the last Provinces of the world-wide Anglican Communion to revise their Prayer Book, had dallied any longer than they did, the consequences for the Church in this country, especially in industrial areas, would have been serious indeed.

I do not want to suggest that we have not very real and unresolved problems in the ordering of our worship. As those of your Lordships with church-going children or grandchildren will know, the growing points of the Church today are what are called family services. In some parishes this is the one really well-attended service of the week or the month. They are in many cases prepared and conducted with great skill and imagination, but all too often they have little association with the Prayer Book, old or new, and some do all too little to prepare young and old for the liturgical worship of the Church.

Many parishes are confronted with a real dilemma at this point and those of us who care deeply about the ordered worship of the Church of England are anxious to help them find their way forward to a share in the common prayer of the Church. We should not be helped in this evangelistic and educational task if the Bill before the House were to become law, because clergy and the worshipping laity, who might be frustrated from using the alternative services that they wish to use because of the votes of non-worshipping, unconfirmed backwoodsmen, would resort inevitably to unofficial, unauthorised services of the family-service type in even larger numbers, and we should be on our way back to the anarchy from which we hoped that the Worship and Doctrine Measure had delivered us.

I can confirm from my own experience what the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London has said about the almost complete absence of disturbance of parishes by the inauguration of alternative services. No formal requests from clergy or parishes have reached me. On numerous occasions, my colleagues and I have been asked to help in the explanation of the alternative services and in their inauguration. One of my rural deans told me that, if anything, clergy err on the side of excessive caution. Another of my incumbents has said that in his experience the only evidence of aggravation in a parish is where a priest is holding back liturgical reform and certainly not inflicting it upon an unwilling congregation.

In view of some of the charges that have been made about the clergy exercising undue influence over their church councils, I must say that, in my experience in both town and country parishes, the laity really are not so dumb or so supine as has been suggested. Those of your Lordships who are patrons of livings know, as bishops certainly do, that church councils these days know their rights and do not hesitate to use them.

Finally, I must refer to the charges that have been made that people who want a certain kind of service are being denied it over wide areas. Before I knew that this Bill was to be introduced, I decided to ask all my parishes what services were currently in use in the parish churches on Sundays. In 251 places of worship in West Kent—an area extending from below Crystal Palace to the Sussex border—the 1662 Prayer Book service of Holy Communion is used in 177 churches; Series 3 is used in 199 churches; the alternative service Series 2 is used in 44 churches; and other alternative services are used in 13 churches. There are only 73 churches in the diocese where the 1662 service is never used; but there are only six churches where nothing but the Book of Common Prayer is used. So far as Morning and Evening Prayer are concerned, 81 churches use Series 3 or Series 2 and the remainder use the 1662 service.

So, despite the fact that the Series 3 Holy Communion service is used in 79 per cent. of the churches of my diocese, the Prayer Book service continues to be found in 70 per cent. of the churches as well. In no deanery do less than six parishes use the 1662 Book and in half of the deaneries it is in use in more than 10 parishes. Indeed, in Royal Tunbridge Wells, the number is 19; so that letters to the bishop signed "Disgusted, Tunbridge Wells" are on other topics!

I have spoken, as I only can do, for one diocese. I shall not argue generally from the figures produced from what is, after all, only half a county. But I know that, in the parishes to which I have referred, the clergy and laity, in using these services on the scale that I have suggested, are not embarking upon a gimmick. They are services that have been carefully introduced, experimented with and debated. In a highly mobile society, it is just not true to say that people are being denied the Prayer Book.

Much more important is the clear evidence that I have given of the extent to which the alternative services are now in use. This is the real world of the Church of England which I dare to speak for. The Vicar of Rochester tells me that all the couples that he has prepared for marriage since the alternative marriage service was authorised for use five months ago, have of their own free choice elected to use that new service.

I have no hesitation whatever in saying that the clergy and laity of my diocese eagerly await the publication of the Alternative Prayer Book in 1980. Its use will be safeguarded by the Worship and Doctrine Measure and those who exercise their rights under that Measure (which this House concurred in) will be doing so within a Synodically-governed Church where bishops, clergy and laity who believe themselves called of God to worship and mission are partners together to the great enrichment of each other. Those of us on these Benches do not mind what any noble Lord may say to us or about us; but we shall mind very much indeed if you insult the elected laity of the parishes and dioceses of England by supporting this Bill.

6.58 p.m.


My Lords, with the approval of the House, I should like to say one or two words although my name is not on the list of speakers. I also apologise for missing some of the earlier speeches; but I promised the noble Lord that I would support him if I could get here. On 4th December 1974, the other place discussed the Worship and Doctrine Measure. I intervened as Leader of the House, although not to put a point of view on behalf of the Government, as my noble friend has suggested he is doing today. It must be many years since a Government had a point of view, as a Government, on a Church matter. If that is the case on this Bill, then it is wholly deplorable.

I intervened then—I hate to quote from my own speeches—and this is how I ended my speech: Finally, I say hesitantly—as a member of the Church myself—that in ending the role of Parliament in this matter we are placing a new responsibility on the Church to ensure that the feelings and the wishes of ordinary churchgoers are reflected in the decisions of the Synod—namely, decisions concerning worship and doctrine. If Parliament is to withdraw its surveillance and custodianship over the established Church's worship and doctrine, the eminent and articulate theologians in the Synod must listen to the rather quieter voice of the majority in the Church".— [Official Report, Commons, col. 1582; 4/12/74.] With respect to the right reverend Prelates, I, as a member of the Church of England, have detected no change whatever since that time in this respect. I do not know whether any noble Lords who are active in the Church have detected any change, but I have detected none. There has been no improvement whatever since Parliament gave its surveillance and custodianship over doctrine and worship matters to the Synod itself.

I am sorry to disagree with the right reverend Prelate and my very good friend the Bishop of London, but I do not think the safeguards in the Worship and Doctrine Measure are sufficient. They are not nearly sufficient. Right reverend Prelates can quote of course that "X" hundreds of people up and down the country have discussed this or that order. But at parish level it really is not sufficient to leave it to the parochial church council, and that is not to denigrate the parochial church council in any way. Almost the only point with which I agreed with the noble Lord, Lord Alport, was what he said about the church councils. They are doing an excellent job; but, let us face it, the church council in most parishes is an "in" group of people, and necessarily so. I do not say that in any derogatory sense.

Of course the great majority of worshippers in any parish church are not members of the parochial church council, and they are excluded from any discussion on any change in the form of worship in their church. But they are intensely concerned with something as intimate and personal as how they worship. Too often incumbents up and down the country change or rearrange the order of services without consulting the parochial church council, much less with the approval of their congregation. Many bishops and incumbents lose sight of this point: the worship in a parish church is the worship of all the people there; it is not merely a matter for the priest. It is the worship of the whole body, the priest and the people. It is their act of worship, not the incumbent's act of worship.

Last week we had a debate on devolution and I made a speech. The central point in my speech was to defend the right of people to assert their differentness and that there was a great need for that in this age in which we are living. We are all different and there is a tremendous need to assert our differentness. There is no way in which people are more different than the way in which they worship.

Some people—I greatly respect them—can worship best in the simplicity, and, indeed, in the improvisation, of a Nonconformist church or chapel. Other people—and I greatly respect them—prefer the highly ritualised Roman Catholic service. Yet others prefer the approach of the Book of Common Prayer in the Anglican Church, where there is a degree of certainty about what is going to happen. There used to be that degree of certainty in the Anglican Church. One could go into the Anglican Church anywhere in the United Kingdom and have a fairly good idea of what was going to happen. But one has no idea what is going to happen now if one goes into an Anglican Church. Anything can happen anywhere. It is all very well for the noble Lord, Lord Alport, to say, "Walk along to the next church". The next church from where I worship is many miles away. How can I walk along the road to the next church?


My Lords, may I intervene? I realise this, particularly in the country areas. But to be quite frank, this is the era of the car, and there is no reason why anybody who strongly and sincerely desires to have a particular form of service cannot have access to it in almost any part of the country.


My Lords, it is a bit much when people have to leave their parish churches and go many miles away to worship somewhere else because the Book of Common Prayer is not being followed. Another point is not sufficiently appreciated: it is the comfort that certainty gives people in any human activity. Where any human activity is undertaken in a context of routine, ritual and certainty, much more of our consciousness is released to undertake the activity. This is true much more of the act of worship than almost any other activity. Many people can worship best in that kind of context. A great many bishops and incumbents do not realise that. I am not opposed to experiment in worship. I am not opposed to innovation at all. All this Bill is suggesting is that these should be introduced with the consent of the whole congregation; that is, it should be a corporate decision of the whole worshipping community in that parish.

I warmly support the noble Lord. As somebody who is intensely concerned with the Worship and Doctrine order, may I say that I can see no conflict whatever between this Bill and the Worship and Doctrine order. I do not know whether noble Lords have read the Long Title of the Bill. It says: An Act to provide for a ballot to be taken of the parishioners of any parish in which it is proposed to introduce an alternative form of service in accordance with the Church of England (Worship and Doctrine) Measure 1974.". It is complementary to the Worship and Doctrine order, not in conflict with it. It simply extends the mechanism of consultation laid down in that Measure a little further, so that the good sense of all the worshipping members of a church can be brought to bear on decisions about how they worship.

I am astounded that right reverend Prelates are opposing this. I do not understand their opposition to consulting the people on the roll about how they are going to worship. I cannot see anything wrong with that. It is highly, entirely commendable and praiseworthy. The early Church was a community where decisions were made by the whole worshipping community. Let us return to the spirit of the early Church in this one respect. I implore the noble Lord to stick to his guns and carry this to a Division. I and, I suspect, many other noble Lords will support him.

7.8 p.m.


My Lords, may I briefly intervene to make two points. As I was sitting on the Woolsack my interest became more and more deeply involved in this debate. I should like to make two points as to why I think my noble friend Lord Sudeley's Bill is not appropriate. First, the existing machinery of the parochial church council fully provides for what he asks. I come hot-foot today, for a week ago we had the annual meeting of our parish at which the whole village could be present if they wished to do so. It was not just the parochial church council; it was the public meeting to which the whole village were invited.

I have also been involved in the past couple of months in making up the new electoral roll. This we are required to do every six years. For that I, my wife and others, have canvassed the whole village. We cannot, of course, enrol everybody because they do not all want to be enrolled. But we have enrolled a couple of hundred people. They are the members of the community who wish to be associated with the church. Every one of those was entitled to come and vote for the members of the parochial church council. I may say they were not all there, but there was a fairish gathering, of 40 or 50.

So there is the first point, that the whole worshipping community have their chance every year at the annual meeting to elect their parochial church council. In their hands, together with the incumbent, is put the business of deciding what service they have. Indeed, this has been happening in my parish for the past seven or eight years. We have been trying to make up our minds which form of service to have. We have retained the 1663 version occasionally. We went to Series 2 and then we changed to Series 3. Now we are exchanging back again to Series 1 and 2 together. We are trying to reach a conclusion. The existing machinery is there, in every parish community, for all who are interested in the church, to elect their own PCC and they will speak for them.

The second point I want to make is this: Why is it that old people like myself are willing to see a change from the 1662 service we have known all our lives?— simply because we are aware that today there are many youngsters growing up in universities and schools who do not have a Christian background, who feel attracted to the Christian religion but undoubtedly find the language of Elizabeth I mysterious, unattractive and difficult to understand. That is why the leaders of the Church have drafted these new forms of service, to try to make our services as meaningful, attractive and inspiring to them as the old 1662 service was to us.


My Lords, may I interrupt the noble Lord for one moment? We all, when we were young, had to learn the English in the 1662 Prayer Book, and it was just as "old" to us then as it is to young people today. Why did we find it easy?

Several noble Lords: Hear, hear!


The noble Lord probably had the advantage of having a mother and father who were Christians, and he was therefore taught from his mother's knee. Today, that does not happen and young people must learn for themselves. There is no doubt about it: it is a handicap today to use the language that we may love but which to them is difficult to understand. That is why many of us felt that it was right to turn to the new forms of service. I still believe that if we want to see—as certainly I do—young people who have not had the advantage of a Christian mother and father to bring them up in Christianity, being given a chance to approach our wonderful Christianity, we must ensure that it is as available and as welcoming to them as we can possibly make it.

These are the two major points that I should like to leave in your Lordships' minds. We have here a perfectly democratic machinery which has its full influence on deciding what sort of service is to be used in every church. Secondly, we are giving up something in the service that we have been brought up in so that we can make the Christian religion available to everybody.

7.12 p.m.


My Lords, I think that your Lordships will acknowledge the emotions, the erudition and the sincerity with which my noble friend Lord Sudeley has introduced his interesting, small but contentious Bill. I was greatly impressed by the way in which he handled most of his arguments, but must say that my recollection of the debate on the Worship and Doctrine Measure of 1974 differs somewhat sharply from his own. It was not, I think, given over to panegyrics about our late and beloved Primate. For example, I added eight and a half lines of Hansard to that, and four and a half columns to what I confess was a somewhat passionate discursus in defence of the old forms of language and service. However, although I found echoes of sympathy in this from the noble Lord, Lord Wells-Pestell, whose intervention I greatly welcomed, like him, I have to recall that I am now sitting on another Bench and therefore have to take a wider view. If one wears a uniform, it is true that one's shape shows through, but I have to do no violence to my own views to achieve this.

The fabric of our society is interwoven with that of the Church of England; indeed, the Church of England has been almost too often described in history books as "the Tory Party at prayer". In that Church, liturgy and song have played a very important part, but that fabric of society under the Church has endured for a very long time, and it has not done so by rigid resistance to change in either the State or the Church. The change has been gradual, and I sympathise very much with a great deal of what my noble friend Lord Mottistone said. It is, after all, steel and not cast iron which has strength, because it can bend. The most recent change was the introduction of synodical government. It was a decision taken by Parliament—taken in part in this Chamber, during a debate in which my noble friend Lord Sudeley, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London, and many, many others, including myself, took part. It was not a superficial debate and I do not think we begged any questions.

I believe that the House should be grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Sudeley, and to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London for a most illuminating and penetrating explanation of the settled balance arrived at between the Church and the State and of the functions of Synod, clergy and laity. There has been a counterpoint to this of great value from the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Rochester, who put the matter in what might be called practical terms.

I do not take this Bill to be a deliberate attempt to rescind part of the Worship and Doctrine Measure of 1974; if it were, I would take a different view. But as it may unintentionally do so, one must review it with great care. It is my function here to say that one cannot, I think, place a Party line on how my noble friends are to vote; but I think it is fair to draw their attention to a number of facts.

The first is that a useful function, which my noble friend Lord Sudeley has set out to achieve, has already been discharged: to give rise to a discussion as to whether or not the 1974 Measure has introduced satisfactory machinery. The debate has also given an opportunity for many of my noble friends and Members on other Benches to make speeches to which the Synod would be very well advised to pay attention, though I accept, as I am sure the right reverend Prelates will also, that the Synod is not a body subject to direction and it cannot be expected that it will be directed.

My personal hope is that this Bill will be withdrawn. More fervently, I hope that the clergy and the Synod will take note of what has been said, and that my noble friend's supporters in this cause will recall that they are part of the same body as those who disagreed with them and that it is for them and those who disagree with them to find a compromise and a reconciliation. It is upon compromise and reconciliation that the Church is built, and if they are not sought then this exercise will have been wholly damaging.

If the noble Lord does not withdraw his Bill and if, as I suppose, in spite of what the noble Lord, Lord Glenamara, has said, it proves to be a recension of part of the Worship and Doctrine Measure when it is examined in more detail, if it reaches a further stage—because, my Lords, merely to put in the words "in accordance with" in the Long Title does not alter the nature of the Bill any more than to say "in contradiction of" —it would not be possible for me to give such a neutral and anodyne speech from this Box, because we should then be touching on matters of great constitutional significance. I believe they have been trespassed upon unintentionally by my noble friend, and I hope that, hearing the cracking of the ice, he may feel that he has gone far enough.


My Lords, before the noble Lord, Lord Sudeley, rises, may I say that I thought the noble Lord, Lord Elton, made one remark which I did not entirely understand—it may have been accidental. He said, I think, It is upon compromise and reconciliation that the Church is built. Those of us who do believe in Christianity in all its forms—Methodism, Quakerism, Catholicism, and so on—certainly believe that the Church is built upon reconciliation. That is one of the things which Our Lord represented; but I am not so happy about "compromise". I do not know whether I have misunderstood the noble Lord.


My Lords, if the noble Viscount wishes me to reply, I will change that. The Church, of course, is built upon love; but we are talking politics, and love shows its face in politics in many forms. Two important forms are compromise and reconciliation.

7.19 p.m.


My Lords, I think this has been a most fruitful debate and I am most grateful to all the noble Lords who have been so kind as to take part in it. I am especially grateful for the sympathy that I got for the cause of the Bill from the noble Lords, Lord Mottistone and Lord Somers, from the noble Earl, Lord Halsbury, and from the noble Lord, Lord Glenamara. The noble Earl wrote to me before the debate and said that, with regard to Christian mysteries, it was better that men should be free to exercise their imaginations; the voice was silver and silence was gold. From the point of view of this debate, it has been quite the other way around. The noble Earl's voice was gold and his silence would have been less than silver. I was most indebted, also, to the noble Lord, Lord Wells-Pestell, for the very sympathetic point of view which he took towards my Bill. All his remarks about language in the Book of Common Prayer and the alternative services were really bullets which he might very well have prepared and which I should have very much liked to fire.

Then there was the point of view expressed by the bishops. I did not know before this debate whether I ought to mention in summing-up that my ancestor murdered Thomas à Becket, so that this is not the first occasion on which my family has met with episcopal opposition. I should like to say to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Rochester, who spoke about the great achievements of the alternative services, that I am sure that they exist, but that it is not the object of the Bill to prevent anyone from having the alternative services if they want them. A great many other points have emerged in the debate, and it is difficult to know in which order to take them. But I thought, for better or worse, that I might hang my remarks on the speech of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London, and mention the speeches of other noble Lords by the way, where they interacted with the points made by him.

The right reverend Prelate asked me why I did not participate in Church government. I speak as a hereditary Peer, and I am not sure whether the noble Lord, Lord Alport, would think that I was a specious democrat or a real one. But, if I may be allowed by the noble Lord to put myself forward as a real democrat, I would say that I should be rather bothered by the inadequate basis of lay representation in the Synod, because of all the gearing which takes place between the parish representative and the Deanery Synod, the Deanery Synod and the Diocesan Synod, the Diocesan Synod and the General Synod. This is not real representation at all and it would bother me, from a democratic point of view, to participate in that kind of government.

A small point made by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London was that, when I spoke about enforcement, I mentioned the Act of Parliament of the last century requiring that a certain Church vestment should be worn, which could be enforced in the civil courts. The right reverend Prelate pointed out that this had led to parsons being sent to gaol. My rejoiner is that the fact that they were sent to gaol created an unnecessary degree of sympathy for those parsons, and that it would have been much more satisfactory if they had merely been deprived.

The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London said that he did not know of any cases where parochial church councils were overridden, or not consulted. Certain instances have, in fact, been produced in the debate and I have had correspondence from various parties entrusting to me information of this kind about cases where parochial church councils were not properly consulted, or were overridden by their vicars. My difficulty is that the information was entrusted to me in confidence, but if I can get the consent of those who have given me the information I shall be very glad to send it on to the right reverend Prelate, if he would like me to do so.

He also said that I did not name my bishops, but he named his. I could go so far as to name my bishops. It was the Bishop of Truro who said that something should be done to prevent alternative services from being forced on unwilling congregations. It was the Bishop of Chester who said, with regard to the introduction of the new services, that parochial church councils were not properly consulted. It was the Bishop of Peterborough who said that lay people are sometimes pusillanimous, and allowed their incumbents to get away with all kinds of things which they ought not to do.

Another point which the right reverend Prelate made, and which was made in several parts of the debate, was that the Bill would introduce strife into the Church of England at the parish level when it does not already exist. But the strife has already been introduced by the alternative services. The Bishop of Peterborough wrote to me saying that he did not want the Church of England to be turned into—to use his own vivid phrase—"a Yorkshire coalfield". But it is a Yorkshire coalfield that the Church of England has already been made into, by these new services.

A certain amount was said by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London about what a pity it would be to disturb the relationship between Parliament and the Synod, when this has been fixed ever since the enabling Act. But the noble Lord, Lord Mottistone, mentioned as a rejoinder that the hand of the Synod was moving too fast. It is worth mentioning in this connection that the Synod has lost a little of its air of self-assurance and has become a trifle nervous. The Synod was formerly apt to assume that all its legislation would go through with a mere nod of Parliamentary approval, despite the fact that Parliament still retains a certain amount of residual authority on Church matters.

Now, all that has changed. There was the Endowment and Glebe Measure, which alienated the benefactions of our ancestors, and thereby destroyed much of the incentive for future giving—and giving usually takes place on a strictly local basis. This Measure also enabled the centralised authority of the Church of England to destroy the parochial system and the idea of the benefice, which is as old as the history of the Church of this country. There was very sharp criticism in Parliament of this Measure, especially from the noble Lord, Lord George-Brown.

Then there was the very strong speech made before Christmas by the noble Lord, Lord Denham, on the Diocese Measure, in which the noble Lord was extremely critical of the quantity of ill-digested legislation which has come from the Synod to Parliament during the past 10 years or so. The noble Lord said that the moment might come when Parliament will have to say no.

Then there was the argument put forward by the right reverend Prelate that one cannot legislate against human folly. As one noble Lord put it to me in correspondence before this debate, what my Bill was seeking to do was to get between fools and their folly, and this is something which one should not do. But this argument might be summarised by saying that people have their rights under parochial church councils and, if they cannot stick up for them, then it is their fault. They really ought to do so. But this argument—which I suppose one might call the argument of the tough capitalist ethic, and which, for all I know, dates from when the Liberals joined us in 1886—is a secular ethic, and what we are dealing with is a non-secular situation. Then I think that the ethic also begs the question: what is the Church? Is it the clergy, or is it the laity? If it is the laity, then we should do well to remember the passage from the Didache in where reference is made to how the clergy were elected to their congregations.

One parallel to this argument of the tough capitalist ethic is the argument that the Church is not a democracy. This is a theme touched on by the noble Lord, Lord Robertson of Oakridge, who said that what the Church needed under the present Christian revival was a great deal of leadership. But if one says that the Church is not a democracy, then why have a house of laity as well as a house of clergy in a Synod, with equal voting powers?

My last point concerns the matter of doctrine. The right reverend Prelate was a little critical in his speech of my remarks on doctrine. Doctrine is a difficult matter to raise in a Parliamentary debate. To put together two theologians is rather like putting together two economists; they are bound to disagree. Certainly it is the case that if many ordinary men in the pew were able to vote for the Bill they would vote with their hearts, not with their heads. They will not know what is meant by the epiclesis and the ananiesis. However, I was rather anxious when the right reverend Prelate remarked that the Worship and Doctrine Measure provides that decisions on doctrine ultimately have to be made by the Synod under the Measure.

That is not my reading of that Measure. In Clause 5(1) of the Measure, which is headed "Interpretation", the following words appear: References in this Measure to the doctrine of the Church of England shall be construed in accordance with the statement concerning that doctrine contained in the Canons of the Church of England, which statement is in the following terms. The quotation is taken from Canon AS of the Canons of the Church of England, as given in the Worship and Doctrine Measure 1974: The doctrine of the Church of England is grounded in the holy Scriptures, and in such teachings of the ancient Fathers and Councils of the Church as are agreeble to the said Scriptures. In particular such doctrine is to be found in the thirty-nine Articles of Religion, the Book of Common Prayer" that is the phrase which I have under-lined— and the Ordinal. Having read that out, I emphasise once again to your Lordships how important it is that people should be able, if they want to do so, to continue with the old services. May I repeat that the old services have already departed from the Book of Common Prayer, not only in the instances which I gave at the beginning of the debate but in further instances, of which I will give one or two examples.

In Holy Communion, Series 3, for example, there is no consecration. High Churchmen say that from this point of view Holy Communion has ceased to be a valid rite. In this connection, may I mention Michael Morton's pamphlet, Consecrating, Remembering and Offering. The deity of Christ has been weakened in one or two ways, apart from those which I indicated at the opening of the debate.

Before the debate I thought I would say at the end of it that there is the omission of the word "incarnate" from the Creed. I am extremely glad that the right reverend Prelate thinks that the word "incarnate" will be removed. Then the phrase "God of God" has been changed to "God from God".

I do not regret having initiated this debate, not in the form of an Unstarred Question but in the form of a Bill which has provided a better framework for the debate. Nevertheless, it has emerged from the debate that while many noble Lords are sympathetic towards the primary purpose of the Bill, which is to provide better safeguards for the Book of Common Prayer, they have a reservation about the secondary consideration relating to the constitutional issue; namely, the Bill going as legislation from Parliament to the Synod rather than the other way round.

I am anxious that no harm should be done in the Division Lobbies to the primary purpose of the Bill, on account of which such good speeches have been made. Owing to the constitutional issue, if noble Lords will allow me to do so I prefer to bow out gracefully.

The Lord Bishop of LONDON

My Lords, may I take it from the noble Lord's last words that he is withdrawing his Bill?


Yes, my Lords.

7.33 p.m.

The Lord Bishop of LONDON

My Lords, I am very grateful to the noble Lord for doing so, thus not requiring me to press my Amendment. I do not think that there is any need for me to answer at length the speeches which have been made in the debate. Certainly I do not want to go in detail into the last speech which has been made by the noble Lord, Lord Sudeley, except to say that he is speaking about a Church which I do not recognise. It is quite different from anything in my own experience.

As regards the noble Lord, Lord Mottistone, he must know that I cannot possibly give any assurance as to what the General Synod will do. The General Synod is very well aware of the kind of opinions which have been expressed in this House, because very often I am in sympathy with them and make these points, although I do not always carry them in the Synod. However, I hope that I am a sufficiently good Synod man to take the view which is expressed by the majority of my fellow Churchmen. Those points of view are undoubtedly expressed there, although they do not always carry the day.

I found it very difficult to understand the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Glenamara. I am sorry that he was not here for my opening speech, as it would have answered a great many of the points which he made. He began by saying that he saw no improvement in the Church of England since the passing of the Worship and Doctrine Measure. I found that to be a rather condescending remark. What does the noble Lord mean by "improvement"? I have seen an enormous amount of improvement since the Worship and Doctrine Measure was passed and I would in no way accept his derogation of the work that it has done.

The noble Lord says that the result of the new services is that he does not know where he is. If he had been Bishop of Willesden, as I was from 1950 to 1955, he would have known not at all where he was when he went around, with people using different services which were all illegal. Now they are all using the legal services. Series 2 has been one of the great irenic influences in the Church of England.

I believe that the basis of this debate was touched on by the noble Lord when he said that there is a "majority" of people whose wishes are not being observed by the decisions of the General Synod. This, I think, is the difficulty. A great many people who call themselves members of the Church of England go occasionally to Church and then do not find that with which they are familiar. Now that Parliament has given to the Church of England a clearly defined system of synodical government, surely it must accept that that system is the one which controls and orders the life of the Church of England.

It is open to any Member of this House to take his part in the work and administration of the Church of England. I wish, with all my heart, that noble Lords would do so. We on these Benches have got pretty tough skins; that is one of the essential requirements of anybody who is called to be a bishop. Therefore we can take the kind of speeches which have been made today and the kind of speeches which were made on the Dioceses Measure, on the Endowment and Glebe Measure and on the Worship and Doctrine Measure, but it is not possible for us to carry all of those messages back to the place where those speeches really ought to be made; namely, in the General Synod. I wish that noble Lords who feel strongly about these matters would seek election through the democratic processes of the Church in order that the points which the noble Lord, Lord Sudeley, has so cogently made are expressed among Church people, who equally can tell him what they think. In that way we may come to a common mind.

The Church is not the bishops; it is not the clergy; it is not the laity. It is the whole body of Christ working together for the benefit and extension of Christ's Kingdom. That is what has been given to us in synodical government, and we who are part of it are profoundly grate-full for it.

In view of the fact that the noble Lord, Lord Sudeley, has asked permission to withdraw the Bill, it is not necessary for me to do other than ask for leave to withdraw my Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.


My Lords, I beg leave to withdraw the Motion for Second Reading.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.

Bill, by leave, withdrawn.